MIDNIGHT OIL was a solo exhibition in collaboration with Paul Smith.

On show between November 2022 and February 2023, the exhibition brought together landscape and plant paintings for the first time in my career.

With a background in Retail and Visual Merchandise, I was instantly interested in the opportunity, as it felt like a full circle. Back in 2012, I was dressing mannequins on Oxford Street by day and painting by night. In 2022, I returned to those same spaces, but as a painter, which has always been my dream career. I was already aware of Paul Smith's work with emerging artists and really admired the way he pushed the boundaries to make his stores a real experience.

Conversations about a potential exhibition began in 2021 with Allen Snow, Paul Smith's Exhibitions and Artists Partnerships Manager. At the time, I felt a bit like two artists: the one who painted landscapes and the one who painted plants. I'd had a series of exhibitions that had been either plants, or landscapes, so was super excited when Allen said he liked the idea of both. He also set up communications with the Paul Smith fabric department, who gave me access to archive designs. I had always wanted to work directly with the designer of the fabric, so it was a particularly inspiring process. 

There were 57 works made for Midnight Oil, which were split into two exhibitions: one online and one at the Borough Yards store in London.

" As the nights draw in, and it gets colder and greyer in the city, it’s easy to understand why artist Nicola Wiltshire named her new exhibition at Paul Smith Borough Yards in London ‘Midnight Oil’. She was, she explains, “thinking of London in the winter.” And wanted to inject a double dose of vibrancy to those long nights and after-work drinks. “These colourful oil paintings act as a ripple from summer,” she adds. "

- www.paulsmith.com

Living in the North of Scotland, my studio practice changes with the seasons. In the winter, the days are short and the sun is so low that it barely makes it into my studio. As a result, each layer of oil paint can take weeks to dry. Especially the warmer colours like yellow, orange and red. In winter, I paint at a much slower pace and focus on the faster drying colours like blue and green. In summer I embrace those warm colours and painting becomes more active. With each layer drying in a few days, I can make quick decisions and proceed spontaneously.

Midnight Oil is a winter exhibition, but the paintings were made in summer 2022. I was tempted to create a series that tapped into the dark and mysterious magic of London in winter, but I decided it would be more authentic (and more fun) to fully embrace summer. I thought about the places I'd visited that were lush and full of light, plus the plants that were in their growing season - stretching towards the sun. I felt it would be exciting to filter all these moments into my paintings and present them at a time when the skies are dark and trees are bare. The works would be almost jarring against a backdrop of a Nothern Hemisphere winter.

The works really resonated with people for these reasons and I would love to set up a winter exhibition most years. It makes sense - my work is about light, joy, colour and togetherness. Why not share them at the darkest time of year.

I was also nervous/excited to exhibit my drawings for the first time. I've been drawing privately for years. It's a huge part of my practice, but I had never found a way for it to capture the same energy as my paintings.

These new drawings stem from a late summer residency in the beautiful New Forest (2022). I found myself in this majestic place with only pastels, pencils and paper to capture it. By the end of the week, I had developed a new way of working. I layered up different pastels by really rubbing them into the textured paper, almost staining it. I did this with different colours until the surface had an iridescent quality, then drew my subject in hard pastels. When I got home, I covered the lines in different shades of blue ink to create a super-saturated colour. I love the way the ink glistens on top of the powdery pastels and they looked great hanging next to those high-pigment oil paintings. A taste of what's to come.

You can read more about Midnight Oil in my interview with Paul Smith HERE.

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